Healthy Living in the North

IMAGINE Grant: Trail Blazers

Riding a bike is one of those experiences that most people associate with being a kid, but the truth is many kids don’t get the chance to have that experience. The cost of buying a bike is a major barrier for some families, and additional costs like helmets and maintenance can put the activity out of reach. Many students at Westwood Elementary School in Prince George are among those not fortunate enough to own a bike, and this motivated a teacher, Tanja Wilson, to apply for an IMAGINE Community Grant to start the Trail Blazers program at the school.

Westwood school kids on bikes.

“I saw the need for some of our youth to be able to enjoy bike riding, and I wanted to incorporate it into an after school program so that everyone could join,” says Wilson. “I wanted to help kids learn not only how to ride a bike, but also safety rules and basic bike fixes such as how to put a chain back on, and how to lower a seat.” 

With funding in place, Tanja first set out to purchase the equipment: 25 bikes, 25 helmets, and 25 sets of pads, in sizes to accommodate students of all ages. She then arranged lessons about bike safety and maintenance for the kids, including hand signals, crossing roads, and how to replace a broken chain. Once this was completed, it was ride time.

“It was FANTASTIC!! Not only did the students enjoy it, their parents did as well.”

The program ran twice a week for primary students and twice for intermediates. The route between Westwood Elementary and nearby Ginters Park quickly became a fan favourite. At the park, the kids explored trails and were able to enjoy a healthy snack before riding back to school!

The program was a hit, seeing huge growth in participation over time and giving many students the opportunity to engage in fun, healthy, and safe physical activity with their friends.

All kids should have the chance to play, but sometimes barriers they can’t control get in the way. By supporting projects like Trail Blazers, the IMAGINE Community Grants program helps break these barriers down, one ride at a time. The Spring 2019 IMAGINE intake opens to applications on March 1, 2019, with applications due March 31. For more information, visit the IMAGINE Community Grants web page.

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.

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Thermometers help keep kids out of Dease Lake emergency room

Two staff holding thermometers.
L-R: Amy Bolton, Dease Lake Pregnancy Outreach Coordinator and Anna Fritch, Northern Health Nurse.

When someone goes to the emergency room with a cold or a mild fever, they often end up using some of the time and care needed for people with more urgent health concerns.

Anna Fritch, a nurse in Dease Lake, noticed this trend and decided to do something about it. Her goal was to cut down on the number of unnecessary emergency room visits.

She realized that many people who come to the emergency room don’t have basic health information on how to treat minor illnesses at home.

“I thought, ‘What do I know about taking care of a cold?’ I learned what to do from my mother as a child and how she self-treated us at home,” Anna says.

She realized one problem is that people don’t know where to get health information. Another problem is that people call emergency saying that their child has a fever, but when asked what their temperature is, parents respond that they don’t own a thermometer.

Anna works closely with the pregnancy outreach coordinator in Dease Lake, Amy Bolton. They meet a few times a month to collaborate and share information. When Anna mentioned the issues to Amy, Amy was immediately on board, offering to use some of her budget to buy thermometers.

Anna and Amy now wanted to work out how to give out the thermometers, but also educate people at the same time. They tried to do monthly pre-natal education sessions, but even though Dease Lake is a small town, the turnout wasn’t great.

The next step was to share the information with Dease Lake residents. At a community health fair, Anna provided thermometers, HealthLink BC info on how to take temperatures (children and adults), Northern Health info on treating a child’s fever at home, and a pamphlet from BC Children’s Hospital.

Now, Anna has the same information in her office, along with the thermometers. When a family or an elder comes to the emergency room, she takes the opportunity to educate them about fevers and gives them a thermometer. She teaches them what a fever represents, when to be worried about it, and what to do.

This education “makes a fever less frightening and puts a bit more agency into the hands of families,” says Anna. “People tend to think the moment they’re unwell, there’s nothing they can do.”

“It’s a willingness to partner and support people, but it’s also ‘here’s the tool you need and how to use it.’ These are the situations in which you can help yourself,” says Anna.

Anna says that now, when people call the emergency room to say they’re coming in with a feverish child, they can attach a number to their concern because they’re using a thermometer.

“There’s a difference between hot to the touch and clinically having a fever,” Anna says. “When I did the teachings, I tried to emphasize that ‘I’m giving you the thermometer because when you call me, I want us to be talking about the same thing.’”

Anna and her nursing colleagues are still working on increasing people’s confidence to care for family members themselves. But now, they can objectively measure temperature, which gives Anna and the other nursing staff a talking point to use when they call or come into emergency.

This is a great example of how a simple tool and a little education can help reduce emergency room visits.

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.

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Remembering the importance of immunizations

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)

A dad holding his smiling daughter.

Did you know that in this past century, in Canada, more lives have been saved due to immunizations than any other public health initiative? Even with this amazing fact, many people remain under- or un-immunized, and a recent B.C. incident highlights the risks posed by vaccine preventable diseases (VPD). The Okanagan experienced a meningitis outbreak last fall, with several people becoming ill. Sadly, there was one case where meningococcal disease contributed to death.

Vaccines work

Immunizations, also known as vaccinations, help to protect you from getting a VPD. When you get vaccinated, you also help to protect others by interfering with a germ’s ability to spread (this effect is called herd or community immunity). It’s much safer to get vaccinated than to catch an infectious disease.

Consider what happens in the absence of vaccinations. Unvaccinated children contract vaccine preventable illnesses and diseases at higher rates than vaccinated children. Varicella (chicken pox) rates can be up to nine times higher, measles up to 35 times higher, and pertussis (whooping cough) up to between six and 28 times higher! Further, VPDs are more severe in infants and younger children. Delayed immunizations also increase the duration that a child is vulnerable to VPDs.

Northern Health is working to improve vaccination rates

Northern Health manages, allocates, and distributes $6 million dollars’ worth of publicly funded vaccine each year within the northern region, ensuring that vaccines are available to those who need them, when they need them. Northern Health is also conducting a quality improvement study to determine if an automated telephone message is a feasible and useful reminder for parents to bring their children in for vaccinations.

In other efforts, Northern Health is embarking on a childhood immunization strategy to ensure that all two-year-olds are fully caught up. This is accomplished by closely monitoring vaccination rates, increasing the promotion of immunizations, and improving access to vaccination services. Northern Health intends to increase the average immunization rate of 70%, to 75% next year, 85% by 2021, and 90% by 2023.

What you can do

It’s really simple: get vaccinated. Influenza season is here and most pharmacies and public health facilities offer flu shots. Look for locations via ImmunizeBC’s Flu Clinic locator website.

Other vaccines you might need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans, but also on those you have close contact with (think of infants under six months of age, the elderly, as well as people with depressed immune systems). What vaccines you had as a child is also a consideration. Talk with your health care provider about which vaccines you need. Finally, get your children vaccinated according to BC’s recommended vaccination schedule.

More information about immunizations

Please refer to the following excellent Canadian-based web resources:

Mike Gagel

About Mike Gagel

Hailing from Vancouver, Mike and his family moved to Prince George in the summer of 2013. Mike joined Northern Health in March 2017 and works as the Regional Manager for Communicable Disease. Mike has worked in healthcare for twenty years in various roles such as Oncology Nurse (BC Cancer), Clinical Research Nurse (UBC Dermatology), Regional Manager (Vancouver Coastal), and consultant Web Officer (PHSA). He also worked as a technology director with the BC School Trustees Association before joining Northern Health. Outside work, Mike is a volunteer with Scouts Canada, and as a board member with both the Prince George Public Library and the BC Library Trustees Association.

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Social and emotional well-being at school: The Bulkey Valley School District supports mental wellness in the classroom

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)
Co-authored by Stacie Weich, regional lead for mental wellness & prevention of substance harms, and Taylar Endean, past regional nursing lead for healthy schools.

Children interacting at school.

Social and emotional health in youth is associated with higher academic performance, positive mental health experiences, and better life outcomes. Everyone benefits when we incorporate mental health promotion, prevention, and early identification into schools! Collaborative, sustainable, and informed work in this area will help everyone prioritize wellness in every classroom.

B.C. is making strides towards enhancing the curriculum to reflect and grow social and emotional health, and has introduced a new program that includes social and emotional core competencies. The Bulkley Valley (School District 54) has found an excellent and innovative way to meet that goal: they have hired a Social Emotional Helping Teacher (SEHT).

This teacher driven support begins with a teacher reaching out to the SEHT asking for help. The SEHT meets with the classroom teacher for a planning session on embedding well-being into the curriculum, rather than individual, one-off lessons. They work with teachers and students in collaboration, planning and implementation of the new social emotional curriculum requirements into the classroom. This is done is various ways and is driven by the individual classroom. The SEHT assists in incorporating personal and social responsibility into everyday school activities in different subjects such as Language Arts, Science, Music, Art classes and fields trips. This is done through various methods such as storytelling, identifying personal heroes, bringing music and crafts to seniors homes, caring for the environment, personalized drawings/colouring to identify self-awareness, stressors and stress management.

The WellAhead graphic.

 The SEHT attends 3-4 sessions with the teacher and co-teaches with them, building their capacity, confidence, and skills in these topics!

This resource offers a huge support to the teachers and school staff, and encompasses the Comprehensive School Health Framework. Due to increasing demand, this program has grown from a two to four day per week position!

Moving forward, the Bulkley Valley District and Northern Health have teamed up to engage in a coaching grant opportunity secured through the WellAhead – McConnell Foundation. WellAhead is a national initiative focused on integrating social and emotional well-being into young people’s education for long term change. The McConnell Foundation is a private Canadian foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Together, these programs connect health and education with expertise and tools that help build plans to enhance the wellness in our region. Granting opportunities can be found on the McConnell Foundation website.

What is your school doing to support social and emotional well-being for the students, teachers and staff? Mental health is truly everyone’s business, so take some time to think about how your school environment is promoting these kinds of wellness. After all, we’re all responsible for ensuring that school is a safe, fun, and healthy environment for all.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Breastfeeding-friendly spaces: Make breastfeeding your business

Breastfeeding friendly spaces decal stating, "we welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere."Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding takes an entire community, big and small. That’s why Northern Health is happy to support a provincial-wide initiative to encourage breastfeeding-friendly spaces across the north.

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces program has created a toolkit to help businesses and organizations create a welcoming, breastfeeding-friendly space for all families. The toolkit includes:

  • A window decal, featuring the universal breastfeeding symbol, to be prominently displayed in front windows. Displaying this decal shows your commitment to support breastfeeding.
  • A companion tip sheet that offers information about how employers and staff can support breastfeeding families.

The importance of breastfeeding

Did you know that a woman’s right to breastfeed is protected by law in BC? As per BC’s Ministry of Justice:

  • Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area.
  • It’s discriminatory to ask a mother to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.

While these facts are not new, it may not be common knowledge. Northern Health is committed to supporting breastfeeding-friendly spaces across northern BC. We encourage all businesses and organizations to do their part to contribute to a positive community that recognizes the importance of breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding friendly spaces decal on the window of the library entrance.

Ignacio Albarracin, Public Service Manager for the Prince George Public Library, stands at the library’s entrance with the new provincial Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces decal displayed.

A closer look

The Prince George Public Library is one in a growing list of northern BC organizations that is proud to declare their facility to be a breastfeeding-friendly space.

“The public library is a welcoming space, it’s an inclusive space, and serving households with children is one of our core services,” says Ignacio Albarracin, the library’s Public Service Manager, about why they have put up the decal. “We understand that it’s the law, that women have a right to breastfeed anywhere, and this is also consistent with our values to make this a family-friendly space. We want mothers to feel that it’s safe and appropriate to bring their children here. We want them to feel that they’re not going to be bothered or judged if they breastfeed their children here.”

This breastfeeding-friendly spaces decal and tip sheet were created in partnership with Perinatal Services BC, all BC health authorities, the Ministry of Health, and the BC Baby Friendly Network. The new program will be replacing Northern Health’s existing “Growing for Gold” program, which was developed for the 2015 Canada Winter Games and featured a window decal stating, “Naturally, you can breastfeed here.” We appreciate the northern businesses and organizations who have supported this initiative and they can expect a new toolkit in the mail very soon.

When you order a decal, your business/facility will be added to the list of breastfeeding-friendly spaces on the Northern Health website. Help us send this important message: “We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere,” by requesting your decal now!

Want to do more? Consider displaying these posters as well:

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.
(NH Blog Admin)

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Breastfeeding: a cultural approach can make all the difference

In 1977, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Plains Cree woman from the Piapot reserve, appeared on Sesame Street explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird as she breastfed her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild. This was the first time breastfeeding had been shown on a major television station. At the time, this was quite radical. Mothers had been taught since the early 1900s that they should rely on experts for advice and they were recommending formula. In 1977, to push back against “experts” to promote breastfeeding was groundbreaking.

Creating cultural connection through breastfeeding
Since then, we’ve learnt a lot about about the importance of culture in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and we’re beginning to understand the role breastfeeding plays in connecting to culture. Breastfeeding creates a strong physical bond between mothers and babies that carries the cultural values and beliefs of the mother to the child, connecting the child to the past and future. Research shows that Indigenous moms who have strong cultural and spiritual resources to turn to, take up and keep up breastfeeding, at rates better than the overall population of nursing mothers. For example, Rhodes (2008) found Indigenous women most connected to traditional ways were sixteen times more likely to breastfeed.

The valuable contributions culture can bring to breastfeeding and health has been weakened by colonization. Widespread disruption of home, family and cultural connections has harmed generations of Indigenous people in Canada through Residential Schools, Indian Hospitals, and other high level policies.The widespread disruption caused by colonization meant the loss of mothers, aunties, and grandmothers who were crucial to the success of young mothers’ breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding & child health
Not breastfeeding has a high price.The report on child health released by Northern Health’s Chief Medical Health officer last year, showed rates of early childhood dental caries/cavities (ECC) in northern BC five times the provincial average, and children living in northern regions undergo surgery for dental issues at three times the provincial average. The risk for early childhood caries is greater in some Indigenous communites with higher rates of bottle feeding and, in these cases, a cultural approach to breastfeeding is an effective protective factor against ECC.(See: Cidro et al. Breast feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities, 2015.)

Creating healthy cultural practice
Supporting Indigenous mothers will require extra care from health care providers. Understanding the importance of culture in supporting breastfeeding can reduce the specific and systemic barriers that exist for Indigenous mothers. Many mothers are hungry for the connection between themselves, their children, and their culture. Many loved ones and community members may also want to understand and reclaim their roles in supporting breastfeeding as a cultural practice.

You could be an important bridge for reclaiming these connections. Questions to ask a breastfeeding mother could include:

  • Would you like an Elder or trusted loved one to be part of the visit?
  • Are there any cultural and traditional practices that would be helpful for you?
  • Is there anything special that would help you in breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding, supported as a healthy cultural practice, promises much for improving and restoring health and well-being within Indigenous communities. Providing culturally safe services is a call to action: what can we do to promote breastfeeding in a culturally safe way for the Indigenous mothers in our care? What is it you can do?

Overall,  being aware of the underlying impacts of past negative experiences and how they’ve influenced Indigenous people’s encounters with the health care system is most important. If you can do this, you will send the message that you know about and are ready to respect the cultural bonds of breastfeeding.

We know that discussion of sensitive topics like this may cause distress. Please ensure you or the people you are working with have access to the supports you need.

Want to learn more? Check out:

 

Citations:

  • Rhodes et al. American Indian Breastfeeding Attitudes and Practices in Minnesota Maternal and Child Health Journal July 2008, Volume 12, Supplement 1, pp 46–54
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie started CradleBoard a site to improve curriculum. You can access this interactive web site at http://www.cradleboard.org/2000/mission.html though not all links work.
  • Cidrio, et al. feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409764/

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Feeding our babies: at what age can we start offering solid foods?

The question

As a mom, I know it can be hard to get straight answers to parenting questions. Websites and discussion boards offer so many conflicting opinions (right?). Even professional recommendations sometime vary. This can be confusing… and frustrating!

baby eating solid foods in high chair

At six months, my daughter let us know she was ready for solids. Here she is eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food!

As a dietitian, I also know people have a LOT of questions about feeding their babies. Here’s an important one: “When is the ‘right’ time to start offering solid food?”

The recommendation

Northern Health supports the following recommendations from World Health Organization, Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, and Perinatal Services BC:

  • Infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life
  • With continued breastfeeding, complementary solid foods and other fluids are introduced around the age of six months of life
  • Continued breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years and beyond

Well, now that’s a mouthful! Let’s simplify that:

“Breastmilk is the only food a baby needs for the first six months. After that, keep breastfeeding and offer nutritious foods, too.”

The details

Since there are some variations in when babies are ready to eat food, we see the language of starting foods at about six months of age. Some babies will be ready for food a few weeks earlier than six months, some a few weeks later. Your baby will give you signs, not just that they are interested in food, but also that they are developmentally ready. Your baby may be ready for solids if they can:

  • Sit up, unsupported
  • Open their mouth for food
  • Turn their head when they are full

Our daughter let us know when she was ready, which, for her, was just before six months (I have proud mama pictures of her eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food. So cute!).

More questions

“Don’t some people say, ‘Food before one is just for fun’?”

Red flag! This phrase is concerning because we know how important food is for babies, starting at about six months. One big reason is the increased need for iron at this age. Other reasons include involving babies in family meals and supporting the development of their eating and food acceptance skills.

“What about children at risk for food allergies?”

You may have seen some media stories about the prevention of peanut allergy, where “four-to-six months” is sometimes mentioned. To clarify, the majority of families (98-99%) can introduce peanuts, at home, when baby is about six months old (for more information about safely introducing peanuts and other common food allergens, see Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in your Baby). For a baby with egg allergy or severe eczema (this is not common), their doctor can help make an individualized plan that may involve testing for peanut allergy before introducing peanut-containing foods.

Want up-to-date information on first foods for babies? Check out the following resources:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Are you a SmartMom?

Becoming a “mama” was the best thing to ever happen to me! As a nurse working in public health, I thought I had all of the knowledge, tools, and skills I needed to be a “smart” mom. I honestly thought it was going to be easy! During my pregnancy, I chose not to attend traditional prenatal classes due to transportation issues. Instead, I sought pregnancy, breastfeeding, labour, and delivery information from a variety of other credible sources including books, videos, websites, and our birth doula. Although I felt prepared, I was lacking a stronger support system that I did not even realize I needed.

pregnant women holding cell phone

SmartMom is a free text-based service that guides soon-to-be mothers through every week of pregnancy. Texts are tailored to their due dates and information is from trusted health sources.

When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I learned about a new prenatal education program that was coming to the north: SmartMom. SmartMom is a prenatal education program that texts evidence-based pregnancy information to women via phone or computer. It is the first program of its kind in Canada! As soon as I learned about SmartMom, I realized that this program would have been so helpful for me and my spouse during my pregnancy!

As my own experience suggests, nowadays, women are choosing to get their prenatal information in a variety of unique ways above and beyond traditional prenatal classes. The texts from SmartMom are meant to complement the prenatal education women are already accessing in their communities through group prenatal classes, one-on-one sessions with a health care provider, or their own research of credible sources. The beautiful thing about SmartMom is that it delivers text messages tailored to a woman’s stage in pregnancy.

How it works

sample of text messages

SmartMom will text you information tailored to your due date via cell phone or computer. To enroll, text “SmartMom” to 12323 or visit www.smartmomcanada.ca

Women sign up to receive text messages with information that can be helpful when discussing concerns with their health care providers, as well as supporting them in making choices about their health. In addition to receiving supportive prenatal information, women also have the option of subscribing to supplemental messages, including topics of specific interest to them: alcohol use in pregnancy, nutrition and exercise, substance and tobacco use, exposure to violence, being an older mom, and information about labouring after a caesarean section. These supplemental streams of messaging can assist women in making choices specific to their health and their pregnancy. The ultimate goal of SmartMom is to have healthier mommies, babies, and families!

SmartMom is available now! There are three ways to sign up:
• Contact a health care provider for information
• Text “SmartMom” to 12323
• Visit www.smartmomcanada.ca

As I came to realize, becoming a”smart” mom is a learning process; it takes time to learn how to be the healthiest version of yourself for your children and your family. A program like SmartMom can really help a new mom increase her knowledge and prepare for the wonderful journey that lies ahead!

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Beware the noisy toy

Baby with toy

Do you know how loud your kids’ toys are? A few simple steps can help protect their hearing health!

I have seen many an adult with hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure. In my current role as a pediatric audiologist, I am more likely to see hearing problems due to an ear infection than to noise damage. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, though.

The Canada Consumer Product Safety Act has a section on Toy Regulations. In it, they suggest that: “A toy must not make or emit noise of more than 100 decibels (dB) when measured at the distance that the toy would ordinarily be from the ear of the child who is using it.” One hundred decibels, though, is pretty darn loud!

Worksafe BC counsels, as do many safe workplace organizations, that at noise levels of 85 dB, an employer needs to provide proper hearing protection for their staff. Audiologists in both Canada and the US would agree this should also apply to toys. Granted, children may not play with that same toy for 8 hours (the length of an average workday); it’s more than likely that after about 10 minutes their parent tends to direct them to another, quieter, activity. But even these short playtimes with loud toys can be unsafe: Worksafe BC also counsels that workers can only be exposed to 100 dB for a period of 15 minutes before that noise becomes hazardous to hearing health.

Toy manufacturers are not required to specify the decibel output of their product, so how would a parent or well-meaning relative know? To put it into perspective: a gas-powered lawn mower is about 100 dB. So is a subway train entering the station. However, in neither case is the listener’s head as close to the sound as a child’s ear can be to a toy, or a teenager’s to an iPod. It stands to reason: the closer a sound is to our ears, the louder it is.

As parents don’t usually have sound level meters in their homes, what can they do?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Try before you buy. Listen to the toy, keeping in mind how close children will hold it to their ears. If you find it uncomfortably loud, it’s too loud for your child.
  • Is there a volume limiter, off switch, or battery compartment? You can always shut it off or remove the batteries. In the case of an iPod, iPhone, and/or iPad, a parent can access the volume limiter, reduce it, and lock it. Your teen may not be impressed, but their hearing health is protected – at least from the iDevice.
  • Depending on the size of the toy, put clear tape over the speaker. It will still make noise, but not as loud. If you’re crafty enough, your child may not even realize it’s there.

Interested in more information?

The Sight & Hearing Association, based out of Minnesota, provides an Annual Noisy Toys List. They use 85 dB as their upper limit, and a list can be provided to anyone who requests it!

Laura Curran

About Laura Curran

An audiologist at the Terrace Health Unit, Laura was born and raised in Nova Scotia but has made the trek to Terrace twice in her career - most recently in 2014, as she found she missed the beauty of the area. She started out in private practice for a national hearing aid dispenser and then moved into research before finding her main passion: Clinical Pediatric Audiology. When not working, Laura enjoys crafting, quilting, and camping with her husband.

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Babies, solid foods, and allergies: What do you need to know?

Are you worried that your baby might develop a food allergy? I was. A baby is at higher risk of developing an allergy if they have a parent or sibling with a food allergy, eczema, asthma or hay fever, or if the baby has severe eczema. My husband had various nut allergies when he was young, many of which he outgrew, but he still has a strong reaction to Brazil nuts. Given my husband’s history, my daughter is at higher risk of developing a food allergy.

baby eating solids

Early introduction to common food allergens may help reduce the risk of children developing allergies.

You might be a bit nervous about introducing certain foods to your baby – I was! The foods most likely to be involved in food allergies are called “common food allergens.” They are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk and milk products
  • Peanuts
  • Seafood (fish, crustaceans, and shellfish)
  • Sesame
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts (almond, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, etc.)
  • Wheat

As a dietitian, I have seen the advice on introducing common food allergens change – a lot! Years ago, it was thought best to wait to offer these foods until baby was a year old, or two years old, or even older. However, research over the past 10 years has shown us that there is no benefit to waiting that long. In fact, new research, especially research on peanuts, shows that earlier introduction may actually help to reduce risk of allergies. Wow!

What does this mean for feeding your baby? The most current research supports these guidelines:

  • Start offering solid foods when your baby is about six months old.
  • Offer foods high in iron twice per day; iron is very important for babies. Examples include well-cooked meat, poultry, and fish; cooked eggs, lentils, beans, chickpeas and tofu; and peanut, tree nut, and seed butters. For more ideas, see “Pumping iron: First foods for building strong babies”.
  • Don’t wait. You can offer common food allergens when baby is ready for solids, at around six months of age.
  • Worried about allergy risk? Introduce common food allergens one at a time (other foods do not need to be introduced one at a time). In the event of an allergic reaction, symptoms often appear within minutes of eating the food, but they can also occur hours later.
  • Worried that a food caused an allergic reaction? Stop offering that food and connect with your child’s doctor for a diagnosis. You can continue to offer other new foods to your baby, including other common food allergens.

When it was time to start our baby on solid foods, I was a little nervous about things like peanut butter. I made sure to offer these foods when my husband and I were both around, and I watched my daughter for signs of a reaction. Luckily, we have not yet seen any signs of allergy, and she has now been introduced a wide variety of common food allergens.

It was helpful to know where to go for help in case we had questions. Did you know that there is a Registered Dietitian at HealthLink BC who can support families who have concerns about food allergies? They are only a phone call away – just dial 8-1-1.

Looking for more information and support? HealthLink BC’s resource “Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby” provides additional information on introducing common food allergens to infants.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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